It is that time of the year again; the 7th month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar when the Hungry Ghost festival is widely celebrated among the Chinese communities.
Do take note that most of the mass celebrations is more common in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan with regards to the large scale of the widespread celebration through altars, offerings, and even street performances to honor and pay respects to the spirits out there.
(It is believed that the gates of hell/underworld is opened on the first day of this 7th lunar month and the spirits are released; sort of on a vacation for a whole month where they are allowed to roam the earth among the living).
There are many do's and don'ts to be observed during this whole month; which has been passed down by word of mouth for generations; from our ancestors and the young are constantly reminded to abide by these rules to avoid 'unsightly' troubles. Refer to my previous post here on the do's and don'ts.
During this month, you can spot many stages set up on the streets at many different intervals of time; and these are usually meant as offerings by the different districts/areas to appease the spirits dwelling around the area, or also the form of respects by the people residing in the particular area to the spirits so that they would not be disturbed during the month.
There are large paper effigies of the patron deities for the underworld spirits to guard over them during their stay on earth for the month and also to offer protection and blessings to the living.
Long tables are set up for the people to offer food and paper money and it is said that no other objects should be placed on the table if it is not meant as an offering as the spirits would consume whatever that is placed on the table.
Performances such as opera, puppet shows and even stage singing (getai) are common during this month.
Mass burning of paper money, paper dolls, houses, cars are also observed during the celebration of the Hungry Ghost month and you would notice that there are even burning outside residential houses and shops; in the forms of paper money, candles, joss sticks and placing of food.
(It is said that these food will lose its taste after being placed as an offering; a sign that it has been consumed by the spirits).
The celebration of the Hungry Ghost festival in Malaysia is by far one of the largest; along with Singapore and Taiwan as the local Chinese communities in these countries observed an almost month long of prayers and offerings to the roaming spirits.
It is interesting to note the culture and way of celebration practised by the local communities in observing the festival; and it is also important for traveling visitors from other countries to learn and abide by the rules to avoid any unwanted or 'other worldly' troubles, as believed by the locals. While some may brush it off as mere superstitions, it is still wise and respectful to heed the advice and the tips passed on by the locals.
It is better to be safe than sorry.
A few tips to observe if you are in the abovementioned countries during this month; if you are unsure of the Lunar calendar, you will be know when you are greeted by stage singing on the streets and there are paper burning by the roadside:
1. Do not stay out too late at night
2. Do not step on the burning by the roadside (food, paper, candles, joss sticks)
3. Do not whistle or sing at night
4. Do not turn when you heard your name being called; especially at night and you are not sure who it was
5. Do not spit or make any comment on the performances/offerings/prayers (be polite at all times)
A rule of thumb, if you are not sure, just do not say anything as the locals are sensitive towards any disrespect to the spirits during this month.
Also, you may not know 'who else' you may be offending, so just be vigilant and observe what the locals do, but with an open mind and respect.